06 Sep #JGADeclares – Guest post by Scott McAulay
As part of the #JGADeclares series, this week former staff member, recent graduate and collaborator Scott McAulay offers his view on language and climate change. You can follow Scott on Twitter and see his talk at the upcoming RIAS Conference.
This year the Guardian’s editor-in-chief sent an email to every member of staff after reviewing the language they use surrounding the environment and establishing whether terms accurately reflect the phenomena they describe. The exercise’s purpose was to set guidelines to ensure accurate conveyance of the severity of the situation humanity finds itself in – entering the Anthropocene Epoch, where our species’ activities now constitute a geological event on par with Asteroids and Ice Ages, events linked to historical mass extinctions. Notably, “climate change” is to be replaced by “climate breakdown/crisis/emergency”; “climate sceptic” with “climate science denier”; and “global warming” with “global heating”. Historically, language has been a powerful tool in influencing public opinion, and as climate breakdown poses an existential threat to all sentient life on Earth, a universal shift in climate lexicon could prove to be invaluable in mobilising the necessary response.
A blessing of sorts afforded to many readers, is that we are placed in positions of privilege where we do not personally experience daily climate breakdown impacts as the Global South and Indigenous North do, stifling our response. Whilst the “ our house is on fire” metaphor continues to scream unignorably in the Amazon, the Congo and Siberia, the Greenland Ice Sheets are melting 70 years ahead of IPCC predictions and an accelerating hydrological cycle amplifies storms, like Hurricane Dorian that devastated the Bahamas not a day ago – all we endure personally are occasional heatwaves that the media report as “holiday weather!”, floods and freak snowstorms. It falls upon artistic intervention such as Lines (57° 59’N, 7° 16’W), an interactive light installation in the Outer Hebrides by Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho, to remind us that consequences such as rising sea levels shall eventually affect us. As the world heats up, the U.K.’s first climate refugees are set to come from Fairbourne in Wales – the uninsurable soon-to-be-ghost-town with an impending end to its flood defence funding, and Scotland is set to watch its heritage treasure the Skara Braes in Orkney gradually drown in coming years, so it is time we adopt a language that properly prepares clients, designers, policymakers and the public to respond to this appropriately.